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Walter Harrison

President of University of Hartford, Class of '69

What do you do for a living and what’s it like?

I am retired.  Before retirement, I was president of the University of Hartford, Vice President of the University of Michigan, a consultant to a variety of colleges and universities around the country, an administrator at Colorado College, and an English professor at Colorado College, Iowa State University, and Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.  My career in so many different areas of higher education was both fulfilling and life-affirming.

How would you describe the value of an English degree in your career/life?

Studying English in graduate school, both at Michigan and later at the University of California, Davis, taught me discipline, ability of communicate in speech and in writing, and critical analysis.  It also developed my love of literature, theatre, film, and culture.  

Who were some of your favorite professors/classes and why?

Radcliffe Squires, who was a poet and literary critic.  When I was a graduate student at Michigan, I found it very difficult to find a professor who was interested in “experimental literature and film” (for instance, the novels of John Barth and the films of Andy Warhol and Stan Brakage).  Instead, they wanted me to study Old English, Shakespeare, and Milton and discouraged me from studying contemporary literature.  Professor Squires  was interested in engaging me in discussions of the literature I loved, and gently pushed me to understand that learning the literature that preceded and helped shape them would provide a context that would enriched my understanding.  He helped shape the intellectual curiosity that has defined the rest of my life.

What literature from your English classes shaped you?

I have a very eclectic list: Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, August Wilson, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, just to name a few.

Do you have any advice for incoming English majors at Michigan?

Study the literature you love and learn to love some of the literature you know nothing about in order to learn how to write, speak, and listen well and to learn critical thinking and analysis.  Then apply these skills and this knowledge to whatever field of endeavor you choose.

What are some of your favorite memories from Michigan?

Three unrelated memories: meeting the woman who would become my wife in a proseminar, taking a course in Greek Tragedy (a genre I previously knew next to nothing about), and attending Michigan football games.